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Assessing The Sing-Off

December 17, 2009

sing off.jpegEver since I first heard about NBC's new a cappella singing competition, The Sing-Off, in the summer, I've been excited about the new series. Certainly it seems to build on the current wave of interest sweeping the country (and other places like the UK) in group singing. BBC Radio's The Choir and Fox's Glee are just two examples of mainstream media projects devoted to ensemble singing in recent times. While Glee and The Choir have made for delightful viewing and listening, the same cannot be said of NBC's new show.

I'm going to see how the series progresses before passing final judgement. But I have to say that I'm not encouraged by the debut. Part of the problem is the host. Nick Lachey is bland to look at and listen to. Plus, the poorly written, cliche-ridden script doesn't help the situation. The series has two articulate judges: singer-songwriter Ben Folds and Boyz II Men member Shawn. But the third judge -- Pussycat Dolls front woman, Nicole Scherzinger -- is barely coherent and can't seem to say anything remotely incisive. At best, all she can manage is "wow."

Another issue is the repetitive and dull editing -- the entire show follows the same formula throughout, with a behind-the-scenes look at each choir, a quick live performance, comments from the judges and then a post-mortem.

Finally, I have to say that I'm mostly underwhelmed by the talent, Three of the groups look promising. The all-male ensemble from Puerto Rico, Nota, have great moves and spirit, and The Beelzebubs, a large all-male consort from Tufts University, sing with sharp articulation and possess a quirky sense of humor. I'm also impressed by SoCal, a group from Los Angeles, whose energy and tunefulness make me want to get up and dance.

I could do without the religious proselytizing of the two faith-based groups though. And I heard some very wonky intonation and dynamic control in the initial heat. Plus, some of the arrangements aren't great. The all-female group Noteworthy, is a case in point, with its caffeinated, squeaky renditions of "Viva la Vida" and "Hold On."

It's difficult to imagine that the show's producers didn't receive hundreds of applications from ensembles for the series. I know for certain that there are better groups out there than most of the ones that were selected to participate in the series. We'll see what happens between now and December 21, when The Sing-Off reaches its finale. I can't say that I'll be waiting with baited breath until then.

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